How can someone talk about the neighborhood of Vardaris, when so many important artists and writers have lived in it, walked it step by step, bringing it to life with ink on paper?
My relationship with Vardaris was only a relationship of separation every time I left Thessaloniki behind and a relationship of joy every time I came back again. The traffic of cars, the rush of people, the noise, the fast pace and the ugliness of the buildings made me in a strange way, calm down. It was my border, the entrance to my own “home”, my beloved city.
Then I realized that in other times, some people probably also felt like I do today, since for centuries this was the entrance and exit of the city. So behind the unsightly apartment buildings and the small sad alleys, a whole part of the history of Thessaloniki was hidden. Insignificant for others, but for us, a piece of the puzzle that would complete her story.
Walking on these grounds, at the western part of the city, I reflected for a moment, that we are all walking on soils drenched in blood from battles and massacres for the once longed-for co-capital, Thessaloniki! The street today is called Eirini (=Peace) Street. A tragic irony for a place where so many battles were fought. You think that if you stay quiet for a while, even today, you might hear the noise of the swords, the cries and the horses of the besieged and the besiegers who have haunted the city, throughout the centuries.
In these streets, however, you would later hear other “cries”; the ones of peddlers, outdoor barbers and security guards, sometimes singing in the cafes in the company of the most important rebetes (musicians from the scene of the Greek musical genre of rebetiko), such as Vassilis Tsitsanis and Yiorgos Batis, and sometimes settling scores with their lives. You would hear the voices from the movie theaters, the voices of the girls calling their “respectable” clientele for a day’s wages, and the hustle and bustle from the men pouring into these alleys as soon as dusk fell.
Today, in the streets of Bara nothing reminds us of the bygone era of that romantic district with the countless prostitutes. Nevertheless, it is worth walking this side of the city, to feel the old times, to hear the voices of foreign soldiers, to see buildings that remain and alleys that hide different stories. Even behind the shops of Vardaris, behind the military clothes and boots, behind the tall apartment buildings with the weight loss centers, behind car repair shops, warehouses and frowning passers-by, you can discover stories of other times and see the neighborhood with “other eyes”, maybe a little brighter.
Written by Vasiliki Kartsiakli